You go to war, you come home from war, and the war is over. Well, not exactly. Definitely not exactly for those who experience heavy combat and traumatic events. The war follows them home. Sleeps with them, haunts them, sometimes destroys them. When I returned home from Vietnam, the war came home with me; today when they return home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the war returns with them.
How To Fold A Flag follows four U.S. Army veterans who served together in Iraq and today are struggling to readjust at home in America.
There is Stuart Wilf a convenience store clerk in Colorado Springs who also plays in a heavy metal band. With scars that appear deep and are certainly scary, anger not always just below the surface, where he is headed is not clear.
In rural North Carolina Javorn Drummond works in a plant while attending college. With an infectious smile, a gentle personality, Javorn appears to be making progress, yet it's a struggle.
Former officer Jon Powers in Upstate New York near Buffalo started a non-profit organization to assist children in Iraq and then ran for Congress. Powers appears to be readjusting well to civilian life, yet reminders of the war are never far away.
Finally, Michael Goss, depressed and tense, is a cage fighter traveling throughout Texas. Wearing the names of killed fellow soldiers on his clothing and with memories of dead Iraqi children in his head, he is struggling the most.
It seems inherent in the experience of war -- at least in American wars -- that a few sacrifice much and everyone else sacrifices nothing. And a few actually benefit greatly! After returning home to the everyday life of materialism and frivolousness, where the war hardly exists, where nothing seems to have changed, for combat veterans their sacrifices begin to seem larger and society's appreciation for them smaller. Slapping a bumper sticker on the SUV or singing a patriotic jingle can't bridge this gulf. The injustice begins to balloon in the minds of struggling veterans.
If Stuart Wilf's mind would suddenly snap, he would probably direct his pain and anger outward; Michael Gross, on the other hand, could very like direct his aggression toward himself. But the mind is not a road map. Surface personalities often hide more than they reveal. The future is predictable only after it turns the corner and becomes the past. Human bundles of pain and guilt and anger are unpredictable. As we know from Vietnam veterans, those who appeared to be in the worse condition can readjust the best and those who appear to be living well may have the roughest road ahead. So it's best not to speculate.
Documakers Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein offer a solid survey of the struggles of four former soldiers from different communities taking different post-war roads in search of finding a comfortable home in America. They also slip in the father of a dead soldier, reminding us there is something worse than the struggle of those who returned home.The particular insights and general observations of psychological and emotional problems are beneficial to our society as a whole, not only for dealing with individual veterans, but for understanding the true cost of war. Something the general public seems adverse to understanding.
At the end, however, How To Fold A Flag falters with an upbeat tone implying all the men are over the hump and the future is a straight trajectory to a better life. Not true, for these four and for all the others. Some former soldiers and Marines will struggle for decades, others for a life-time. Still others will not make it. Those who experienced heavy combat at a younger age and possess weaker self-identities will have the most difficult time readjusting. And those who return to the warm, understanding embrace of supportive families and communities will have the best chance to readjust.
Americans need to understand that wars last much longer than combat, the pain and fear may never go away, and the ending probably won't be complete. Some former combatants do move on, others struggle forever, and still others give up. This is the true cost of war. Americans need to know this before they again ask our troops to go to war.